April 9, 2016

Cuenca, Ecuador. Four Years and — Leaving

Part of a sculpture series at
Parque Carolina in Quito
We have been in Cuenca, Ecuador, for the past four years, give or take a few months of travel. It's a great place — we have had a wonderful time. Ecuador is a beautiful country, and we have met so many terrific people. However, this May, we are returning to the U.S., most likely Reno, Nevada.


So, for the politically minded: We are not leaving because we find living in a socialist country unbearable. On the contrary, that is one of the parts we like best about the place. It has worked well for Ecuador. And, while more needs to be done, there has been a lot of progress in education improvements, infrastructure, and health care. It's a work in progress, but the country seems to be moving forward. 

The most important reason is that I have had high blood pressure since I was 26, and at 8,200+ feet here in the Andes, it now has spiked. I know it's the altitude because when we were in Europe last year, mostly at sea level, it went back down to its normal, controlled-by-meds, levels. Many have experienced lower blood pressure at high altitudes; unfortunately, I'm not one of them. Between that and the fact that the altitude has affected me in other ways, including my recent discovery that high altitudes can aggravate a tendency toward gout —well, it's just not working. Reno is slightly above 4,200 feet, and that altitude doesn't seem to be an issue for me.

So, how about moving to a lower altitude in Ecuador?

In Ecuador, the lower altitudes include smaller towns outside of Cuenca (no thank you — too small) and the coast (not keen on heat, humidity, and dengue fever-carrying mosquitos). Additionally, the things that are lacking in Cuenca are even more so in the smaller cities and towns. Cuenca works for a lot of retirees who are looking to kick back and just enjoy this lovely city. However, K. W. and I are still working  writing, editing, teaching English  so infrastructure is a big issue for us. The Internet is just adequate here, electricity isn't grounded and is hell on appliances, plumbing is quixotic, water and electric service shuts off semiregularly at the most inconvenient times, the propane tank often runs out of gas in the middle of showering (mine, not K. W.'s, of course), and the mail delivery has proven to be completely unreliable. 

And then there's the arts — or lack of same. Yes, there is a symphony orchestra; no, it isn't very good. The art museums are minimal, and the collections match. There are some interesting historical museums (but as I never have been a fan of pre-Columbian art — go figure). There is no dance performance that takes longer than thirty minutes to rehearse, and definitely no opera. 

Welcome to Guayaquil
For some reason, before we arrived, I mistakenly figured that Guayaquil (over 3 million population) would have more offerings and would be good for the odd weekend. I guessed wrong. The closest decent orchestras are in Lima and Santiago, and for good ballet in South America, you have to travel to Santiago or Buenos Aires. Guess what, it's about the same time and money to travel to Manhattan. I know this may seem unreasonably snarky to some; however, we have lived in San Francisco and other small to large cities, and it's what we like to do when we need a treat.

There are some economic issues, too. Prices in Ecuador have risen over the last couple of years — not just on imports, but on Ecuadorian products, as well. Our health insurance costs have increased, too; at the same time, the coverage amounts have reduced drastically. Now that we both are officially old (as in over 65), there is Medicare in the U.S. Perfect, it isn't, but that issue has become a wash. 

And we miss our friends — especially I miss my BFF Allison. We also are taking into account the fact that I am deeply shallow. I miss mail delivery, kneeling buses, clothes and shoes in our sizes, Target, central heating, Trader Joe's, decent dairy products, supermarket coupons, thrift stores, delivery options for all kinds of stuff, and NASCAR broadcast in English.

The three domes of the New
Cathedral in Cuenca
What will we miss about Ecuador?

The scenery, friends, the birds, living across the street from a pretty river walk, the best landlady in Cuenca, the amazing chocolate and coffee products, the avocados, and the Film and Arts channel from Argentina (think PBS without all the pesky political stuff and way more ballet, symphony, and opera), my massage therapist (a serious healer), and the household goddess Angelita, without whom we could not have cared for a large three-bedroom apartment. Also being able to afford said beautiful apartment —  we both have offices, a real treat. 

The next four weeks will be spent cleaning up and clearing out. And some things, we already have sold. Plus, we are making time to get together with friends. We rented a furnished apartment, so the items we have purchased in the last four years are mostly small kitchen appliances, a few odds and ends of furniture, computer accessories, printer, jewelry, office supplies, stationery, clothes, and storage items. Definitely enough for a tag sale. And definitely too much to pack in six suitcases.

What's the schedule?

First, we head to the Steampunk World's Fair in New Jersey (one of the greatest parties ever). We are getting in a little early so we can adjust before we go full tilt into party mode. Allison will be there to meet us, and she and I have some serious shopping and other lady stuff to catch up on. After SWF, we head to Portland, Oregon, where Allison and her husband Fred have graciously offered us a place to stay while we get our lives sorted out. Drivers licenses, Social Security and Medicare stuff, finding an apartment in Reno — and generally getting our heads wrapped around the notion that we are back in the States.

We hope to be in Reno by July, at the latest.

(And for those who are thinking, "What the heck happened about the possible move to Ireland?" That's quite a tale and enough for its own post.)